Graduate Course Proposal for 2023-2024: Science Fiction and Time-Critical Media

Lewis Mumford argues in Technics and Civilization that “[t]he clock, not the steam engine, is the key machine of the modern industrial age.” From deep time to time synchronization, computer timing to urban acceleration — the history of modernity is characterized by a multiplication of what Axel Volmar and Kyle Stine call temporal infrastructures. Temporal infrastructures are assemblages of practices, technologies, institutions, and ecologies that manage, capitalize, and operationalize time. The result is a layering of temporal scales within and between the devices, systems, and environments that increasingly govern our lives. Temporal infrastructures work in tandem with the coding of bodies to unevenly repeat the rhythms of cultural hierarchy: black bodies can be coded as slow or “out of sync” with modernity, while differently-abled bodies can be subjected to futurist fantasies of technological acceleration. These infrastructures are what Wolfgang Ernst calls “time machines” in the media archaeological sense, since their materials and logistics process and code temporality. Time machines as they appear in science fiction dramatize how mediated experience recontextualizes the interplay between personal experiences of time, social realities shared through policed simultaneity, and the longue durées opened up by geological and cosmic speculation.

The course explores how media infrastructure and fiction work dialectically to produce different speeds, rhythms, frequencies, and scales of temporality. For instance, HG Wells’s The Time Machine is seen as the first machinic representation of time travel, but this novelty is juxtaposed by Wells’s anxieties about the finitude of white supremacy when compared with the endless expanses of evolutionary biology. On the other hand, NK Jemisin narratively exploits very similar deep temporalities in The Fifth Season, using their vertiginous perspectives to ask fundamental questions about race, hetero- and mononormativity, and privilege. In addition to exploring the social and technological implications of time travel, this course will also draw from critical race theory, feminism, queer theory, and eco-criticism to show how infrastructures use temporality to automate various privileges and oppressions. In addition to presentations on research and course content, this course requires a substantial final project that can take the form of a seminar paper, digital / multimodal project, lesson plan, or some other equivalent modality. Some possible texts include:

  • HG Wells, The Time Machine
  • NK Jemisin, The Fifth Season
  • Octavia Butler, Kindred
  • William Gibson, The Peripheral
  • Kim Stanley Robinson, The Years of Rice and Salt
  • Amal El-Hohtar and Max Gladstone, This is How You Lose the Time War
  • Neon Yang, The Genesis of Misery
  • Lauren Beukes, The Shining Girls
  • Analee Newitz, The Future of Another Timeline
  • Cixin Liu, The Three Body Problem
  • Louise Erdrich, Future Home of the Living God

Theoretical Texts include Selections From:

  • Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization
  • Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being
  • Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor
  • Jussi Parikka, A Slow Contemporary Violence
  • Wolfgang Ernst, Sonic Time Machines
  • Yuk Hui, Recursivity and Contingency
  • Amit Rai, Jugaad Time: Ecologies of Everyday Hacking in India
  • Kara Keeling, Queer Times, Black Futures
  • Elizabeth Freeman, Beside You in Time: Sense Methods and Queer Sociabilities in the American Nineteenth Century
  • Ruha Benjamin, Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code
  • Jimena Canales, A Tenth of a Second: A History

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s